Some of the things I’ve learned from working on comics in the last week alone . . .
1) Consistency is key. Art evolution is great when it means your work is improving, decisions are being made faster and the workflow is smoother etc, but if you aren’t at a point where your work has a consistent look and feel that you yourself enjoy, the constant change in direction creates a very unsatisfying feeling that can leave you scrambling to try and make up for your own artistic shortcomings.
2) Control is everything. Art that exists in the abstract is not the same as art that exists in space, so when it comes to drawing characters from different angles the ability to control an object in space is needed in order to keep the art from melting. Basically this means that many of the character designs that I’ve done until now have a serious and ultimately fatal flaw. They all exceed my ability to control their movements in space. A lot look great as concept sketches, but just trying to get certain poses and angles to look right, absolute nightmare fuel because trying to track that many colors, details, folds in clothes and whatnot takes years of practice. Trying to learn it all in a week, heh. Not to mention the fact that I tend to draw characters who have a mix of human and animal features, so the internal logic behind certain aspects of form tends to get really freaking complicated.
3) Have a vision, stick to it. The most hated phrase I ever heard growing up when it came to art was, ‘Just draw whatever you feel.’ Yeah, no, that’s not an actionable goal or a realistic statement. When it comes to drawing a comic, yes, you can draw whatever you feel, put words to it, and still call it a comic. But if you want to work within specific genres, make use of various ideas, or convey certain themes, then before you sit down to draw you need to know what you are and what you are not willing to draw and how you feel about drawing those things. Committing your time and energy to a project only to find out that certain scenes in the script call for you to draw objects you are unfamilliar with is one thing, but suddenly finding out that you are uncomfortable portraying things like violence or nudity even in an artistic setting doesn’t just bring you into conflict with yourself, it can bring you into conflict with the standards of your own community and the acceptable cultural practices of the society in which you live. And that can be a far worse thing then just the chilling effect, because when you begin to consider the legal ramifications and the ways in which people can and will attack both you and your work, your art becomes less of a form of expression and more of a legal liability. Which also explains why comics have been laboring under that particular stigma for years, because not only is is it hard to argue that comics qualify as art in terms of legal protection, but the moment you start using it as an umbrella term you open the door to potential abuses that few if any people want to deal with.
4) Develop your ideas, implement your decisions. This one can be summarized as, good composition focuses our attention on an artist’s strengths, bad composition emphasizes an artist’s mistakes. After looking at my own work and having to go back to the drawing board again and again, what I found was that when I went to color an image, the things that were off about it became more and more exaggerated as time went on. So rather then come together seamlessly, the contrast between them only served to create more conflict. Not something you want to find in your work as its not a pleasent experience for either the artist or the audience, but it does serve to illustrate the fact that while a lot of things worth experimenting with, knowing what works for you as an artist is far more valuable then trying to come up with solutions on the fly.
5) The one who controls the narrative. Coming into comics after having written multiple novels, you would think that would’ve given me a greater perspective on developing my scripts and characters. There’s only one problem, well actually there’s quite a handful of problems and many of them relate to narrative decay, but the biggest problem has to do with the hidden hand of the narrator. Now a lot of artistic mediums have managed to find ways around this, either by asking the audience to act as though the narrator simply isn’t there, or to hide them through the use of artistic conceit. This simply doesn’t work in comics because its the characters themselves who are the ones that narrate the story, not the author. That . . . can definitely be a weird one to try and wrap one’s head around, but when you look at it from the perspective of the artist is just an actor without a stage, while a writer is someone who gets others to build the stage for them, you can begin to understand how the characters in a story become a window into their world. In a novel, we only ever see what the narrator wants us to see, or what they choose to reveal. But in a comic, our perspective is limited to that of the characters themselves. Which means that while a novel can rely on exposition to convey information, a comic depends almost entirely on dialogue to inform the reader as to what’s going on. Or how things works. Or how they feel. Which also means that for a character to differentiate themselves from the author, their personality must be recognizable enough that they are themselves a separate entity, rather then simply a mouthpiece. This can be challenging enough when it comes to writing characters in a novel, but when it comes to portraying a character visually, its a whole different world as subtly and nuance are not necessarily iconic attributes and since recognition is key when it comes to almost everything in art, characters who look too similar to one another either in types of clothing or color pallettes risk either being utterly forgettable, or confusing and messy.
6) Know yourself, know the kind of story you want to tell. Easy to say, much harder to try and build an audience around. Especially if you’re only releasing one page at a time. The thing is, the more I draw, the more I ask myself what are the ideas and themes that I resonate with. And the more I ask myself that, the more I come across aesthetic values that seem to have no real english equivalent, yet have had a profound impact on my life and have served to influence my own work in subtle ways. Now the difference between making those decisions consciously and with full awareness often comes down to being able to put a name to them, as well as understanding the audiences relationship to them because as much as I enjoy a good Shonen manga every now and again, the ones that I identify most strongly with are Seinen and Josei. So when it comes to marketing an idea as well as describing it to others, its easy to find myself in conflict with popular opinion when I say that for me, tragedy is the highest art form, if only because Mono no Aware and Otoko no Romans can have such a profound impact on the dramatic structure of the narrative. That and I do love a good Jisei, so, yeah.
7) Work with a double page spread. Here’s the thing about working from one page to the next, it doesn’t work as well as you’d think it would. Hell, I’d even go so far as to say it doesn’t work well at all. Visual flow is a thing, layouts are a thing, panelling and sound effects and especially lettering don’t just magically appear, so if the design isn’t there from the beginning, it isn’t just going to just show up halfway in because once you’re in damage control mode, it doesn’t stop until the flames die out.
8) Over extending yourself is a real thing, know how to step back from it. Trying to pull together a script, character designs, color pallettes, storyboards along with god knows what else is required to make a comic function as something real and solid, rather then just as some crazy pipe dream you’ve been working towards for who knows how long in only a few short weeks is not the same as being able to manage a project long term. Off all the things that hit me while putting everything I thought I needed to know and tried to learn into this project, this is the one that nailed me to the wall. I’ve managed large scale projects before as a full length novel is not something that you can just throw out there in a matter of days or even weeks, more like a year, maybe year and a half. Add the whole editing, re-writing, manuscripting, marketing, distributing, promoting, working a full time job to support yourself all while learning to do the thing you love as a career rather then as a hobby and disillusionment can hit you pretty damn hard when it feels like you finally made it to the starting line only to find that you’re right back at square one again. Only now you’re a little bit more cynical and jaded by the experience of having wanted something only to find that it wasn’t what you expected it to be. Life is funny like that but you either come back from the experience better prepared to make another go of it, or you join the ranks of the disillusioned and the dispossesed. Basically what I’m trying to saying is that while I still resonate with drawing comics, now that I know what’s needed to make it work in the long term, I have to step back and focus on mastering the skills that will allow me to do more then just talk about my ideas, but act upon them in a way that keeps my life from falling prey to the belief that what I’m doing is just some crazy dream that will never amount to anything.